The Summer We Made Michael Invisible
by Kevin Ahern

I grew up in a tiny town called Fowler, Illinois, which, on a big day, had a population of 200 people and just about as many dogs and cats. I had asthma very bad as a kid and was allergic to ragweed, hay, and virtually everything found in the farm air surrounding our town. Most of my friends lived on farms and others worked on farms, which was something I couldn’t do with my allergies. Idleness left me plenty of time for what John Lennon called “Mind Games” and I put it to good use, doing what my wife now calls “living inside my head.”

There was a family down the street from us with kids a few years younger than me - closer to my brother’s age. Stanley and Michael were good friends of my brother Brian and me. I was the oldest of the pack by about six years so I, as they say, should have been a better example than I was in this story.

Summer was the most boring time of year and boredom is one of the worst things for teenage boys, at least as far as keeping out of mischief. I couldn’t work, didn’t have others my age in town, and was too young to drive, so that left me with all kinds of chances to think, develop my imagination and get into mischief.

One source of mischief, or as I like to think of it, youthful creativity, involved outhouses - outdoor toilets, as it were. Outhouses are comical, at least to the 14 year-old I was at the time. Typically about 5 feet square at the base and tall enough to stand up in, many were what we called two seaters because they allowed two people to relieve themselves side-by-side. While the thought seems a bit revolting, it had a practical purpose in the midst of a frigid Illinois winter when nature calls, because two bodies gave off more heat than one. I still get the shivers thinking about it.

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s in Fowler, about 20% of the people in town used outdoor toilets, since their houses did not have indoor plumbing. We had an indoor toilet, but the people on either side of us did not. Our house sat on a hill at the base of which was the house of Goldie Robbins and she was the object of some of my mind games.

Now, despite what it may sound like in what follows, I actually liked Goldie, got along with her well, and I think she liked me, but I found her comical in her short, stubby appearance and her extremely animated, furious reactions to almost anything. Goldie always seemed like a balloon ready to pop. A time-tested way to light Goldie’s fuse involved her outhouse and the walnuts that fell from two giant trees on the side of our house.

With nothing else to do on a long, hot day, we would wait for Goldie to make the inevitable long stroll from her house to go reconnect with nature in her backyard privy. Goldie was very noisy and very slow and very patterned, so it was easy to know what it was happening. It typically started with her yelling back into the house to one of her sons or her husband to do this or that as she left the house. At that point, the screen door, which was on a tight spring, would slam shut behind her.

Following a short trudge to the outdoor plumbing structure and a lock of its door, we’d spring into action, assuming strategic positions behind sheds, trees, and bushes in our yard so as not to be seen. Armed with walnuts, we would wait for evidence that “action” was taking place and then we’d start flinging our bombs at the roof of the tiny box in which Goldie sat. This would generate a rustling noise from inside and she’d come scrambling out shouting at whoever it was that was doing this AGAIN, but since we were hidden, she was appeared to be shouting at the air.

This went on, over and over - the same pattern. Creaking noise of the front door, Goldie hollering into the house, slamming of the screen door, trudging to the outhouse, walnut bombardment, Goldie screaming, no one to be seen. Over and over. No matter how many times we did it, it was always hilarious to us. Now, let me say, I’m not proud of what we did to Goldie and I blame it on youthful exuberance/indiscretion, but what was done is history and it WAS funny. We did get caught one time and that story takes a bit more telling.

It involved the youngest of the four of us, the neighbor boy named Michael. Michael was the most inclined to believe what older kids, such as the three of us, who should have known better, told him. We were always filling Michael with crazy stories and, being the trusting, gentle soul that he was, he accepted them at face value. Yes, it was a form of bullying that I deplore today, but those were unenlightened times and I was certainly a clueless young man. I will say in a mild defense that we never intended harm. The same was true of our actions toward Goldie. While there were some in the town who would push over or “tip” an outhouse, thus destroying it, that was wrong to me because it was mean and destructive and all I was interested in was fun.

One hot, humid Illinois summer afternoon, I got the bright idea we should convince Michael he was invisible. This involved a magic wand, a few contrived abracadabra-like words, and the other three of us pretending that he had disappeared. Well, it worked, in spades, unfortunately for Michael and the rest of us, as it turned out. Michael really “liked” being invisible. He told us how he was able to fly and float above the clouds. Michael clearly had his own mind games and being invisible helped inspire them. It was great fun and seemed harmless at the time. He would often ask us to make him invisible and we gladly complied. This went on for the better part of a summer.

Well - you can probably see this coming - during one of Michael’s invisible episodes, Goldie made her afternoon trek and, as usual, we assumed our strategic positions. All, except Michael, that is, who didn’t feel the need to hide because, after all, he was invisible. When you’ve got a superpower, it’s a waste not to use it, right?

Emboldened by faux transparency, Michael grabbed a handful of walnuts, marched straight to Goldie’s outhouse and, with her seated inside, proceeded to pelt it. Like clockwork, Goldie raced out screaming and, for the first time, saw the perpetrator - the very visible Michael, who was smiling his face off. She screamed at him about how she was going to tell his mother and he was going to get in SO much trouble for what he was doing. In response, Michael did something none of us ever thought we’d see - he yelled back at her, “You can’t see me, I’m invisible.” As long as I live, I’ll never forget that scene. Well, needless to say, things went downhill from there.

Yes, it was hilarious. Yes, Goldie cocked her head upon learning of Michael’s invisibility. Yes, Goldie called Michael’s mother. Yes, all of us got in trouble, and deservedly so. Yes, we never made Michael invisible again. And yes, I still laugh thinking about it. Goldie passed away before I ever got to atone for disrupting her bowel movements, but I did make one weak attempt. I wrote a song/video inspired by her son who died of lung cancer. You can see and hear it at


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